News

Setting Media All a-Twitter

8/08/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

The emergence of social media companies like Twitter and their ability to offer users information in short, quick bites — most of it mundane but some of it often newsworthy — has forced traditional media outlets to take a closer look at the way they conduct business and disseminate content to their primary customers.

ESPN did its self-examination of such new media publicly last week when news of the company's new social-networking policies leaked out to the general public — through a tweet, of course. In a nutshell, the sports network told its reporters they can't have personal Web, blog or Twitter sites featuring sports content, and if they have breaking sports-news content to check with ESPN brass before thinking about tweeting it. Also, ESPN.com may choose to post sports-related social media content.

Twitter advocates say ESPN's policy undercuts the technology's quick-hit, personally driven nature, which can itself serve to further build on an ESPN brand by driving more eyeballs to reporter tweets originating from the dugouts, locker rooms, restaurants and restrooms of the teams and players they cover.

But in the business reality of a multiplatform brand like ESPN, Twitter's value to the content-distribution process is not so cut and dry.

For nearly 30 years, ESPN has built a successful on-air, publishing and Web-based brand by providing relevant, entertaining and, more importantly, accurate and professionally-delivered content to its cable affiliates for which it generates a very hefty monthly licensing fee. From an ESPN perspective, that brand reputation can be seriously tarnished by an ESPN reporter tweet regarding a false or uncorroborated news story or a salacious comment about a player, team or fan.

ESPN's insistence that reporters get permission to disseminate breaking news via Twitter and possibly offer such news simultaneously on other ESPN-related platforms like its ESPN.com Web site or SportsCenter understandably protects the brand and provides such breaking news information to all of its users on a number of platforms.

Still, Twitter poses a new and unique platform for companies like ESPN to further expose a brand to consumers, and undoubtedly other multiplatform media companies are trying to define best practices regarding their talent's use of social mediaservices.

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